A new HHS office set up to support providers who refuse to provide services contrary to their religious beliefs is raising concerns among civil rights groups and some in the health sector.
California family doctor Dr. Lealah Pollock says she fears for the well-being of LGBT patients who may forego seeing a provider they believe may discriminate against them.
“Part of the professional obligation is to provide high quality patient care before us, regardless of our moral beliefs or prejudices,” Pollock said. “If you open the door to allow providers to refuse care based on their perception of a person’s moral or religious life choices, it puts the lives and health care of our patients at risk.”
Last week, the HHS announced the creation of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within its Civil Rights Office. The office will protect doctors, nurses and other clinicians who refuse to perform abortions and other medical procedures such as sex reassignment surgery or fertility treatment for lesbian couples.
Some legal experts echoed religious organizations who said the Trump administration was simply correcting what had previously been the Obama administration’s preference for patient rights over the religious right of medical professionals .
“Ensuring that these providers can practice medicine and serve their communities according to their faith will ensure that individuals and organizations can continue to provide high quality care to people living in poverty and the most vulnerable,” said Anthony Tersigni, President and CEO of Ascension.
Except research shows that people who identify as LGBT face significant disparities in health care due to stigma and the lack of awareness and sensitivity of providers. This is all the more disturbing given that the community is at greater risk for substance use, sexually transmitted diseases, advanced cancers, isolation, rejection, anxiety, depression and suicide than the general population.
The number of people who identify as LGBT is also increasing. A Gallup poll released last year showed that about 10 million Americans or 4% of the population identify as LBGT.
Pollock says that sometimes patients with stigmatized illnesses like HIV have to travel far to find willing or sensitive providers. Now, she fears that the prevalence of such cases could increase if it becomes unclear whether gay and transgender patients will be protected by state and federal anti-discrimination laws.
“This is the latest example of this administration’s efforts to prevent women, transgender people and other marginalized communities from accessing health care,” said Dana Singiser, vice president of public policy and government relations. for Planned Parenthood in a statement. “No patient should have to fear that their very identity will prevent them from getting the care they need.”
Federal emergency medical treatment and active work law prevents clinicians and hospitals from turning people away if they need emergency care. But providers, even those who are typically required to meet high standards to receive Medicare or Medicaid payment, can refuse patients as long as they don’t discriminate against them based on their race, religion, or gender.
The Justice Department said sexual orientation was not a protected category despite steps President Barack Obama took before stepping down to protect patients with gender identities.
Catholic hospitals have been prosecuted for refusing services such as gender reassignment surgery.
And legal experts believe the Trump administration would support providers who refuse to provide such services because of their religious beliefs. Already, faith-based employers have won legal battles, so they might not be required to pay for birth control insurance coverage.
Aside from Ascension, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country, none of the other major faith-affiliated health systems, such as Mercy Health, Hospital Sisters Health System, or Trinity Health, were willing to approve or even comment on the ad.
The Catholic Health Association, which has in the past raised concerns about the implications of HHS rule making on faith-based providers, had a quiet response and said he needed to know more about the new office.
He also hoped that the creation of the office would not lead some to believe that faith-based hospitals were against seeing certain patient populations, according to Sr. Carol Keehan, CEO of the organization.
“While there are some procedures that we don’t do in our hospitals, there is no one who is unwelcome for the care we provide in our hospitals,” Keehan said in a statement.
“One more polarized and politicized argument will not serve the people of this nation well.”
During the unveiling of the new office at HHS headquarters, officials said they had been inundated with complaints since President Donald Trump took office – 34 to be exact. The Obama administration has reported 10 such complaints in eight years.
“For too long, healthcare professionals have been bullied or discriminated against because of their religious beliefs and moral convictions, which has made many wonder if they have a future in it. our health care system, ”said Eric Hargan, acting secretary of the HHS.
A edited version of this history can also to be find in Modern Health Jan. 22 to print editing.